Lifelong learning has never been as accessible as it is now. With a multitude of online resources available, the only thing between you and learning something new is yourself. If you always wanted to learn to code, to learn another language or get yourself into a new career, there will always be a course perfect for you.
The tricky part, however, as with many things online, is how to start. With so much available online, what is right for you? We will try to unpick some of this to help you on your way.
First of all, you need to decide on when you can start committing and for how many hours a week and for how long. You don’t want to start something you can’t see all the way through. It is easy to say you can do an unlimited number of hours a week for the first week, but will that be the case 4 weeks from then? Cramming in as many hours in a week is usually not advised, as most coursework needs reflection and time to be adequately absorbed. Most online asynchronous courses are self-paced, but there will be a recommended hourly commitment per week. Regarding the number of weeks, some classes can be as short as 2-4 weeks and some as long as ten months or several years if you are studying for a bachelor or master’s degree.
Once you have the weekly time commitment sorted, you need to consider how much you want to invest concerning money. Although most short to medium duration online courses will have a free option, sometimes called ‘audit’ options, it will most likely come with fewer resources and add-ons as the paid-for option. In most cases, this also might mean a certificate upon successfully completing the course.
If you are just learning for fun, just taking a few free courses on the ‘audit’ option might be okay. If you are looking to utilise your leanings in your career, you might want to consider a paid-for option. Some courses can start from £9.99 all the way up to £1,000 and beyond. Especially the ones with official accreditations, connected to a brick and mortar university can be a little bit costlier, but you mostly get what you pay for.
Once you have set out the time and investment, unless you already know what you want to do, it’s time to find a topic or specialisation you want to get into. If you are just looking to further your career, it might not be a bad idea to ask your manager or people within the industry you work that you respect like colleagues or friends, about what’s on the horizon. Professional journals and literature can help as well. If you need some inspiration look at some of the more popular online resources such as udacity.com, coursera.org and edx.org.
One of the most popular courses in business from the past years were all focused on business transformation and project management. Lean management and PRINCE2 certification were favourites of yesteryear. The focus nowadays is much more on machine learning, data analytics, entrepreneurship, and digital marketing.
On the professional skills, front top courses are ones that deal with advanced Excel skills, critical thinking & problem solving, coaching skills and time management.
With the progress of technology and data available, statistics courses have risen in popularity as tech-driven courses around AI, voice and IoT (Internet of Things).
In terms of coding, most languages remain widely relevant, but app development and all things cloud infrastructure (such as Azure, Google and AWS) has taken a front seat, next to an array of courses on blockchain technology.
Still relevant for developers amongst us, there has been a surge of website UX courses. And if you wanted to get into game development, there are plenty of classes out there on game design and programming.
Outside the business and coding realm, sustainability courses have taken a flight as well. As climate change is such an encompassing topic, you will find a diversity of courses to match. Ranging from courses on the climate change challenge to how climate change affects urban development or how it affects the world’s food supply.
Online courses on personal growth are plentiful as well. You can find poetry and literature courses on modern poetry, Whitman and Shakespeare. Or learn a thing or two about how AI robots will affect society.
Regardless if you do it for fun or out of professional interest, some of these courses can have a fundamental effect on your career. Taking a Cybersecurity course could force a promotion at work, or an online MSW (Master of Social Work) can get your career going, so choose something you love.
A final few tips to consider when choosing an online course is the course material offered. What kind of formats is it delivered in? Is it videos only or do you have text resources available? Do you have unlimited access to the course material during the course? Sometimes the course material is offered permanently to participants, even when the course has ended.
Also, consider what you are actively required to do. Sometimes assignments need to be completed, or tests sat. Perhaps a final paper is required. For most courses, there will be a requirement to demonstrate what you learn. A good check to ensure you getting value for money is confirming you have bona fide and accessible teachers on the other end. Check they have real associations with the institutions they claim to be connected to. Being able to contact them throughout the course ensures you can get help when you need it. An excellent addition sometimes is having a forum accessible for you and fellow course takers. A big plus for you could be the availability of an app. You can preload your classes and play them on your commute.
There are plenty of platforms out there offering a course on pretty much any topic you could have an interest in. It doesn’t matter if it's just something to do in your free time or if it's something to further your career if you are willing to invest the time, you will come out a better person.